Melania Trump has publicly attacked a constitutional law expert who referenced her son to explain the limits of his father’s powers as president.
The impeachment hearing had been slated for a day of scholarly debate before the House Judiciary Committee – with four experts in constitutional law debating whether the President’s dealings with Ukraine were enough to proceed with impeachment.
However for a second time the session was disrupted by anger outside the chamber – this time from the first lady in her first public comments regarding the impeachment hearings.
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Asked to compare the modern presidency with the tyranny of kings America’s founding fathers had tried to safeguard against in the constitution, Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford law, said: “Kings could do no wrong because the king’s word was law”
The former Obama administration Justice Department official added: “Contrary to what President Trump has said, article two [of the US constitution] does not give him the power to do anything he wants. I will give you one example that shows the difference between him and a king, which is: the constitution says there can be no titles of nobility.
“While the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”
The word play provoked chuckles in the room – however it was quickly jumped upon by figures on the American right and the first lady.
“A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics”, Ms Trump wrote. “Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it”.
While the joke was not directly at Barron Trump’s expense, an unwritten rule to avoid introducing the first family’s children into matters of state remains in Washington.
In 2014 a Republican staffer was fired for criticising then-sitting president Barack Obama’s children Malia and Sasha – who were 16 and 13 at the time – after the pair appeared to look bored at a Thanksgiving event.
Vice President Mike Pence, during an appearance in Michigan, also hit out at the comment, saying: “I just heard at the hearing today, one of the Democrats’ witnesses actually used the President and first lady’s 13-year-old son to justify their partisan impeachment. Democrats should be ashamed. Enough is enough.”
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Ms Karlan later apologised for the comment, saying it was “wrong” of her to reference the child in the debate. She added: “I wish the president would apologise, obviously, for the things that he’s done that’s wrong, but I do regret having said that.”
With three representatives chosen by Democrats and a fourth chosen by Republicans, the legal opinion in the chamber remained divided.
Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor, said he considered it clear that the president’s conduct met the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanours.” Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, added: “If what we’re talking about is not impeachable … then nothing is impeachable.”
But Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and the only one to be chosen by Republicans, dissented from the other legal experts. He said the Democrats were bringing a “slipshod impeachment” case against the president, but he didn’t excuse Trump’s behaviour.
“It is not wrong because President Trump is right,” he said. “A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record.”
Additional reporting by AP